Nazareth Hall Preparatory Seminary is the essential prequel to the story of Saint John Vianney College Seminary. How could we celebrate 100 years of college seminary formation in this Archdiocese without acknowledging where the first 47 years quietly took place along the beautiful shores of Lake Johanna, north of St. Paul? SJV was delighted to sit down with four alumni and capture their remembrances from four years of high school and two years of college at the hallowed grounds of 3003 Snelling Avenue North.
Father George Welzbacher
Nazareth Hall 1940-1945
Q: What was memorable about attending Nazareth Hall during the early 1940s?
A: The German sisters Archbishop Dowling brought over from the Rhineland provided our cooking and laundry, though many of us in the Twin Cities just mailed ours home in big laundry bags or baskets and our parents did it.
The sisters had the groundsman from Germany who spoke very little English. We called him “Uncle” and got to know him. He had been in the German Navy in WWI and had a technique for propelling the rowboat just with one oar at the rear of the boat. After the United States dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki three days later, he shook his head, saying, “Teufl” (the devil). WWII was devilish in so many ways for so many millions of people.
Keep our country in your prayers. I’ve never seen such division in our country as I see today. And the loss of religion among so many Americans is frightening because morality and patriotism disappears along with that.
Q: Tell us how you came to study at Nazareth Hall.
A: My mother and I were coming back one August night on the street car and got off right in front of the rectory of the Cathedral. To our surprise, we turned and saw Archbishop John Gregory Murray emerge. We greeted him, and he asked me, “What do you want to do when you grow up, sonny?” And I said, “I want to be a priest, Your Excellency.” My mother explained, “Yes, we’re just coming back from Cretin High School to enroll George as a freshman. My husband and I think military training would be good for George.” He replied, “Oh no! If you want to be a priest, you will go to Nazareth Hall. Tomorrow morning, you call Father Connolly, the new rector, and tell him I told you that you’re going to Nazareth Hall.” I don’t think that was an accident. It was too felicitous in its outcome for that not to have been planned by the Lord.
Q: What adventures did Lake Johanna offer?
A: During afternoon recreation, we could go swimming during summer school and skating in the wintertime. There was a small island just off the main campus with a chapel where a very generous donor was buried. We have the altar from that chapel and the pillar that supports the tabernacle in our chapel here [at the Leo C. Byrne Residence] from that island’s mausoleum. I remember memorizing Mark Antony’s speech from Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar on that island because I could shout and no one was around.
Our interview with Pat Shannon (Nazareth Hall ’60-66) will be published next week.
This interview was originally published in the Fall 2023 Vianney News magazine.